Italians rap TV for Mafia boss' portrayal


ROME -- Italian politicians and culture figures criticized a private television channel Thursday and urged it to cancel the final episode of a series about a Mafia boss, because, they said, it portrayed the killer as a hero.

Despite the intense pressure, Channel 5, owned by ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset, said it would not cancel the last episode of "The Boss of Bosses" about jailed mobster Salvatore "Toto" Riina, scheduled for Thursday at 3:10 p.m. EST.

Mediaset spokeswoman Rossana Camana said the conclusion, recounting Riina's 1993 arrest, would go ahead. Mediaset said the show was well-researched and did "a real public service."

Similar pressure did get state network RAI to pull the series "Stolen Life," about a 17-year-old girl murdered after witnessing a Mafia crime, off the air this week -- not because it lionized the mob but because it could influence a court case.

Justice Minister Clemente Mastella said he had persuaded RAI to suspend "Stolen Life" at the request of judges trying a man for the murder. RAI has rescheduled it for early next year.

Mastella said he could not exert such influence on a private channel but hoped "the final episode of a very misleading series exalting a criminal would not be seen by millions of Italians."

The Cosa Nostra has long provided fictional anti-heroes for film and television but the portrayal of real-life mobsters like Riina is much more controversial, in a country still subjected to violence and extortion by regional versions of the Mafia.

Riina, head of the Mafia in the 1980s and early 1990s, was nicknamed "The Beast" for his brutality and has been convicted for more than 100 murders.

Best-selling novelist Andrea Camilleri, whose detective stories are set in his native Sicily but do not focus on the Mafia, called the Riina series counterproductive and said it was typical of novels and films that often glorify organized crime.

"I personally believe the only literature dealing with the Mafia should be police reports and judges' sentences," he wrote in La Stampa daily.

Youngsters in Sicily and other areas hit by organized crime like Naples have taken a brave public stance against the Mafia, inspiring some shopkeepers to refuse to pay protection money.

Antonio Marziale, head of a government-funded watchdog for the rights of children, said of the Riina mini-series that "it would be less harmful to show a porn film in primetime."

"The message it sends to teenagers is destructive in educational terms," he said.

As the debate raged, a real-life Mafia trial in Florence dug up details of the 1969 murder of six people in a Mafia turf war. One informer leveled gruesome charges at Riina, accusing him of killing his own brother-in-law and burning the body.